Returning from the Olympic break, the Phoenix Mercury (12-10) have won three-straight games, rising to the fifth spot in the standings. Can they ascend higher? Can they reach contender status?
These questions will not necessarily be answered on Saturday, when the Mercury head to Atlanta for a noon ET matchup with the Dream (ESPN2).
Nevertheless, recent iterations of the Mercury often have suffered from underwhelming performances against overmatched opponents. Securing victories against lesser competition is a positive sign for Phoenix.
So is the engaged play of Brittney Griner.
After an uneven performance in the Mercury’s home victory over the Dream last weekend, Griner turned in a pair of impressive performances against the Fever and Mystics. She got to the line for 10 free throws (and made nine) on her way to 25 points against Indy. She then dominated DC with a 30-point and 12-rebound double-double. She also added five assists, a steal and a block as she registered a game-high plus-minus of plus-23.
Griner should go to work against Atlanta, taking advantage of the undersized Dream in a way that she failed to do so last Sunday. If she does — and if the Mercury win a fourth-straight game in convincing fashion — the MVP buzz for BG also should increase.
Saturday evening at 8 p.m. ET, the Chicago Sky welcome the Minnesota Lynx to the Windy City (NBA TV).
After a two-game trip to Connecticut, the Lynx’s eight-game winning streak seems like a faraway memory, as the Sun showed themselves to be a superior team in both contests. A third-straight loss likely would puncture the Lynx’s perceived contender status.
Questions also surround the Sky’s championship upside. Uneven play, in combination with untimely injuries, have continued to prevent Chicago from consistently approaching their ceiling.
Atlanta Dream (6-16) vs. Phoenix Mercury (12-10)
When: Saturday, Aug. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Gateway Center @ College Park in Atlanta, GA
How to watch: ESPN2 or TSN3
Key to the matchup: Since the Olympic break, Sophie Cunningham is playing some of the best ball of her WNBA career. In almost 24 minutes per game, she is averaging 11 points, with a scintillating effective field goal percentage of 81.6 percent. In the first half of the season, Cunningham was playing 16 minutes per game, scoring 4.2 points on an effective field goal percentage of 49.2 percent. While her current hot shooting is unsustainable, it does seem that more playing time for Cunningham results in better play from her. As Phoenix has struggled to settle on a reliable reserve rotation in recent seasons, a mini-leap from Cunningham would be a significant value add for the Mercury, on Saturday and through the second half of the season.
Dream injury report: Cheyenne Parker (out for season; personal), Chennedy Carter (out indefinitely; suspension)
Mercury injury report: Bria Hartley (out indefinitely; knee)
Highlight: Sophie is on fire and fired up!
Chicago Sky (11-11) vs. Minnesota Lynx (13-9)
When: Saturday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL
How to watch: NBA TV, CW 26 or SN1
Key to the matchup: The return to Connecticut was rough for Napheesa Collier. The Sun’s trio of long frontcourt defenders in Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner made offense a struggle for the former UConn Husky. On Tuesday, Collier managed a season-low seven shot attempts, scoring a season-low six points. She also was a non-factor on the glass, grabbing only one rebound. On Thursday, she put in 11 points, albeit while shooting 26.7 percent from the field. Like the Sun, the Sky are a top-three defense with multiple long defenders that have the potential to cause trouble for Collier, especially if reigning DPOY Candace Parker, who suffered an ankle tweak on Tuesday, is on the court. It will be interesting to see if head coach Cheryl Reeve implements any adjustment to help Collier rediscover an offensive rhythm.
Sky injury report: Candace Parker (questionable; ankle)
Lynx injury report: Aerial Powers (out indefinitely; thumb), Rennia Davis (out for season; foot)